It just got considerably more expensive to be an immigrant seeking U.S. naturalization.
For the first time since 2010, the Department of Homeland Security hiked a range of administrative fees for citizenship applications — in a few cases more than doubling the costs of key services. Any new petitions filed after Dec. 23 will not be accepted unless they include the higher fees.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency charged with handling immigrant applications, said in a statement the proceeds will help cover detecting fraud, processing cases and a range of other administrative costs, in what USCIS called a "weighted average" price hike of 21 percent.
Experts say the stiffer bureaucratic costs means the path to becoming an American could become a heavier burden for many cash-strapped would-be citizens. However, USCIS justified the price hike by arguing the agency was almost exclusively funded through the fees paid by petitioners, and needed the cash infusion.
Still, USCIS Director Leon Rodríguez said in a statement that the agency was "mindful of the effect fee increases have on many of the customers we serve," which is why it waited so long to increase fees.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told CNBC that along with the new fees, "USCIS will also offer a reduced filing fee for certain naturalization applicants with limited means."
Still, "these changes are now necessary to ensure USCIS can continue to serve its customers effectively," he added.